Feel Like Your Life's Moving Too Fast? Here's 1 Way To Slow Down Time.

Pursuing novelty can make the passing years feel like less of a blur.

As you’ve gotten older, you may have noticed the years seem to fly by faster and faster. And it’s not just you: Our perception of time does change considerably as we age.

Alicea Ardito, a northern Virginia therapist who works with older adults, said one of the most common themes she hears in her sessions is that her clients feel their life has gone by too quickly. “A phrase commonly used to describe this feeling is that life has passed by ‘in the blink of an eye,’” she told HuffPost.

It’s important to first understand why years feel like they’re speeding by for many of us. One reason is that, as we get older, calendar units like a year become a smaller and smaller proportion of our overall life, said Ruth Ogden, a psychology professor at Liverpool John Moores University in England who studies time.

“When you are 8, for example, one year is an eighth of your whole life, whereas when you are 80, it’s just an 80th,” she told HuffPost. “This contributes to the sensation of time passing more quickly.”

Another reason has to do with how our memories influence our experience of time.

“Our brain is not constantly monitoring time, so when we need to make judgments about long periods of time, like days, months or years, we use the number of memories formed in those periods as a guide to how long the periods lasted,” Ogden explained.

“For example, if you were asked how long it seemed you had been doing X, your brain would look back at how many memories were formed during period X and use that as a guide to duration. The more memories we form during a period of time, and the more vivid and emotional these memories are, the longer we perceive the period to be.”

New activities, experiences and skills can help us feel as if life isn't just passing us by.
adamkaz via Getty Images
New activities, experiences and skills can help us feel as if life isn't just passing us by.

Consider, too, that we tend to form far fewer new memories later in life compared with our younger years. As a kid, you were constantly learning new skills in extracurricular activities, acquiring new knowledge in school, meeting new people in your classes and doing different, exciting things in your day-to-day life. As you get older, though, you’re generally having fewer novel experiences and may be stuck in a similar routine for years at a time, which makes life feel more stagnant and unremarkable.

“So when we use memory as a guide to time, it feels like we haven’t done much, and therefore it must be a short period of time, so time is flying,” Ogden explained.

Knowing this, we can help slow down our perception of time as we age by pursuing novelty and new experiences throughout our lives.

Seeking Novelty Is Key To Slowing Down Time

“You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next — and disappear. That’s why it’s so important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.”

So why do new experiences have this effect? According to Ogden, when we engage in novel activities, we form new and vivid memories that stick out in our minds and make it feel as though that time has passed more slowly.

Similarly, the cognitive load required to learn a new skill can affect the way we perceive time.

“Think about when you are driving to a new location — the journey there always seems be to longer than the one on the way back,” Ogden said. “This is because, on the way there, we don’t know where we are going, we are seeing lots of new things, there is a greater degree of planning and uncertainty, and these things slow our experience of time. New activities and experiences work in the same way.”

Novel experiences also have a way of getting us off the “hamster wheel” of our daily lives, Ogden said.

“They disrupt our routine, and this disrupts our sense of time. Furthermore, deciding to do something new gives you agency over the way in which you are using your time,” she said. “When we feel like we are in control of time, we don’t feel like it is slipping away from us. This helps to slow it down.”

It’s important to note that, in the moment, new experiences can actually make it feel as though time is passing quickly. But when you reflect back on this period, it will seem as if it lasted longer. It’s what British psychologist and author Claudia Hammond refers to as the “holiday paradox” — named for the way vacations seem to fly by while you’re away but, in hindsight, it feels like you were there much longer than you actually were.

Traveling is one way to infuse more novelty in your life.
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images
Traveling is one way to infuse more novelty in your life.

How To Add More Novelty To Your Life

There are many ways to embrace the unfamiliar in your day-to-day life. It could be something big, like planning a trip to a far-away location, or it could be something smaller, like driving a different route home from work. It might also mean picking up a new hobby, such as signing up for an art class or taking tennis lessons.

Meeting new people is another way to keep things fresh. Maybe you invite an acquaintance from your workout class to a new breakfast spot in town or you start striking up conversations with strangers when you’re out and about.

Another option? “Give back to a cause that is important to you,” Ardito suggested. “Is there a way to volunteer your time or skills?”

When trying to add more novelty to your life, it’s also worth thinking about the time you’re spending on screens “observing novelty but not necessarily participating in it,” Ogden said. She suggests turning online interests into real-world experiences.

’We know that engaging in real-world activities is perceived to be a better use of time than online activities — so taking the online offline may be a way to gain novelty and to slow time,” she said.

“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it.”

- Joshua Foer, author of “Moonwalking With Einstein"

If you want to commit to the pursuit of novelty, block out time in your calendar to do so. Otherwise it’s easy to forgo these new activities when life gets busy.

“Making specific time in your week to try something new will help you to ensure that you do something new,” Ogden said. “It may reduce spontaneity, but it will ensure that it gets done.”

Then keep a record of the new things you’ve tried. Many of us create to-do lists to stay on top of what we need to do but rarely take time to create a “done” list to celebrate those wins.

“Keeping a record of ‘I dids’ helps us to realise all of the things we are achieving in life on a daily basis,” Ogden said. “This also helps to keep all our actions in memory ― lengthening the sense of time passing. Ultimately, by paying close attention to what we are doing, we may realise we are doing more new things than we realise.”

And finally, in your pursuit of new experiences, don’t forget to keep making time for the things you know and love, too.

“Time is limited. Spending it well on things that you love is critical to happiness,” Ogden said.

“While there is a tendency to feel like a full life is one which is full of ‘newness,’ novelty is not always the key to satisfaction. There is a balance to be had between doing what you love and doing something new — the grass isn’t always greener, and we should avoid wishing our lives away on the basis that something novel will always be better.”